Archivi tag: luca banchi

@Euroleague: What’s next for @OlimpiaEA7Mi?

A good Euroleague season is over, for Milan. Not a one for the ages, in terms of titles won, but the 2013-14 campaign will be remembered for good reason. This is when Olimpia came back among the Top teams in Europe.

Milan’s fans waited 17 years before the team reached Euroleague’s quarterfinals. No matter if they were eliminated by Maccabi. My point is: gotta get there, gotta get consistent. One day, you’ll have all the right pieces to get it done and take the trophy. Not now.

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There are a few reasons. First, injuries: we cannot forget that EA7 played without forward Alessandro Gentile (class of ’92), who averaged 16.2 points in his last 4 Euroleague games. He was in his prime when he got injured against Cantù, and eventually missed the following weeks of competition. We cannot forget that Keith Langford came back from an injury a few days before the playoffs, after being sidelined for one month.

Then, David Blatt tactics (and his players’ execution) showed why Milan may belong to the Top 8 but not to the Top 4. They missed the experience to win game-1. They missed quick “game readers”, good passers and shooters to overcome struggles in game-3. They missed any offensive options in game-4, leaving all the responsibility to Langford (who did great before being exhausted), cutting all the big men out of the competition. Talking about defense, Ricky Hickman and Tyrese Rice destroyed them driving to the basket. And no one could even try to guard Big Sofo inside: for instance, EA7 won game-2, when Sofo played only 1’47 due to an injury).

Now, the team has to complete their work: winning the domestic title the club is waiting since 1996. But with all due respect to this, Euroleague Basketball is where the best teams and players are looking at. So, now that Milan is back on track, what will they do this summer?

Will they keep looking at “hungry” players (they mean: the best combination available of age, skills and € or $) or will they keep the best players they have and rebuild a system to plan reaching the Final Four within 1-2 seasons?

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We all heard about Keith Langford and his Turkish passport case: he’s earning big money in Milan, and he is free agent. What to do with him? He just won the Alphonso Ford Trophy which proves is individual value. The team is trying not to spend big money anymore on a player. Will they bet on continuity re-signing Langford to play a third season in a row in Milan? Or will they keep their money to invest it somewhere else? This will be a first, strategic, important decision to make.

Will Daniel Hackett be the starting point guard returning to Euroleague? If so, has he proved he can run a team to the Euroleague championship level? The answer, for what we’ve seen in Tel Aviv, is no. After game-3 he said: “I have to do a better job to guide my teammates”. In game-4, he didn’t. But two games won’t define his career. We have to wait a full season in Milan, with enormous expectations on him. Then we’ll know 100%.

Point guards: Hackett-Jerrells a good pair? Not to reach the highest level, probably. None of them is a natural playmaker in the “traditional” meaning. But a top Euroleague team need this, togheter with a natural born long range shooter, a tough, experienced and consistent big man to give his team a chance against aggressive set defenses and try to stop big bodies on the other end.

What about the rest of perimeter? All said about Langford, Gentile will be back unless the NBA is not drafting him high. Cerella is a great teammate, has a good body to put him for some defensive plays, but he’s not a Euroleague top caliber player. Langford or not, they will need a scorer. Maybe a scoring point guard, sharing his position (and the court) with Hackett, and a “Jaycee Carroll lookalike” guard.

One of the big problems of this season came from the power forward position: Milan signed CJ Wallace to buy his experience (two Final Four with Barcelona), his basketball IQ (Princeton), his personality (one of the funniest guys in the planet) and his “stretch-four” skills to be the most important player in this position. He’s having a disappointing season on many levels. And that increased Nicolò Melli’s duties. The 22 years old man played some consistent game but still miss “that” consistency to be a reliable starter at this level. Maybe it will come with experience, after all. Maybe he’s still dealing with the expectations he had on him since he was a teenager. He’s a free agent: last year he didn’t reached a deal with the team to extend his contract. We’ll see. What about Kristjan Kangur? He suffered a long injury, struggled in finding his own position in the team. Never been a major player, indeed.

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Centers: when the team signed Samardo Samuels to a two-years deal, there was a lot of cricitism. However, the big boy from Jamaica showed that he has top level skills. Needs to be tougher, but he has a great upside. Good move for now, let’s see how much he’s improving. But you need another type of center behind him. Gani Lawal is an unbelievable athlete, but he struggled all the year with Luca Banchi’s defensive system. And he’s not a great offensive player. That’s why his teammates almost ignore him down low. He never gets the ball back to the basket. Never. This is a problem not only because he’s not scoring: the team should need someone who can catch the ball forcing the defense to pay attention on him, leaving space on the perimeter. And someone who can “read” the game in defense, most of all.

I disagree with those (in Italy) that are criticizing the team for being out of he Final Four. Yes, it will be played in Milan. Yes, Maccabi is not that strong if you compare it to Real Madrid or CSKA on paper. But it doesn’t mean that a team that no one expected to be at this level HAS to win or it’s a screwup.

All that said, that step the team have to make from Euroleague Top 8 to Top 4 is one of the most difficult in basketball. That’s why EA7’s offseason will be very, very interesting.

Pietro

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Tale of the Tape: EA7 Milan (@OlimpiaEA7Mi) vs. Maccabi Tel Aviv (@MaccabiElectra) #RoadToFinal4 @Euroleague

One last, meaningless Top 16 game will not change what EA7 Emporio Armani Milan and Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv have done to qualify to the playoffs. They already know that their teams will square off in order to get a Final Four spot, and the Italian squad will also have the home court advantage.

Let’s talk about how they made it. They insist a lot on the concept of “being a team” (in Maccabi’s case, “being a nation”), that’s why I want to analyze their work as a team without putting individual stats on first.

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Can some numbers define their basketball style without mentioning the players? They can, imho.

What can you say about Milan, for example? One simple thing: they make the opponent playing bad. There is a number for that: the Performance Index Rating is now a common data (scouts, coaches and analysts rely more on the advanced stats), but in this situation it’s very useful (4th best in the Top 16, only 72.1 per game for their opponent).

EA7 is the 3rd best team in the Top 16 in terms of points allowed (average): 70.5. Only Panathinaikos (68.5) and Barcelona (70.2) did better than them. But Milano haven’t the Green’s athleticism or Blaugrana’s size in the paint.

Their defense comes from the backcourt, first: Daniel Hackett, Curtis Jerrells, Bruno Cerella and David Moss are the guys that can put an unbelievable pressure on you, no matter what’s your name. Just ask to Vassilis Spanoulis, who lost by 30 in Milan with the reigning champion Olympiacos.

Alessandro Gentile also has the body to do it (not the feet), Keith Langford “know he’s not Gary Payton” (using his words during an interview) but he can be very effective on the passing lines more than on 1vs1. Make the opponents uncomfortable in dribbling, calling plays, using screens will make them uncomfortable on passing inside, finding the right spots, and the fine timing to reach the big man.

All that work lead us to another number: the assist/turnovers ratio. Let’s stay on the defensive halfcourt. EA7 Milan is the only team in the Top 16 that allows a ratio under 100% (95.2%). Maccabi is 6th overall with 123.6%. Milan is also doing a tremendous job against the perimeter danger: they allow only 18.5 three-point goals per game, and only 30% three-point goals made. They also are among the best teams in the Top 16 in terms of Opponent True Shooting Percentage: 46.4% (4th). Maccabi is 9th with 47.6%. Another great stat for Milan: steals. They are 2nd in Top 16 with 7.5 (Maccabi 8th with 5.9). Athletes, big bodies and quick hands on the perimeter are factors.

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It will be a great test for Milan’s defense: Maccabi is the 5th team in the Top 16 for three-point goals attempted (23.1), but they allow the same number to their opponents (3rd). Keep in mind that we’re talking about two of the best three teams at this stage for three-point shooting percentage (EA7 is 2° with 40.7, Maccabi follow with 39.7%). The italian side is the 7th Top 16 team in “threes” attempted (22.3), Maccabi allows a 36% of three-pointers made (7th).

Switching to the offensive end, Milan has only 104.7% (15th) in assist-turnovers ratio, while Maccabi is 4th with 167.9%. That means one thing: they take care of the basketball. This is easier when you know your teammates (6 major Maccabi players were there last season, Blu and Schortsanitis played there in the past with the same coach), and Luca Banchi insists on this in every practice, every day with a team full of newcomers (only Gentile, Langford and Melli came back from 2012-13) that went into struggles and important changes during the season (a new point guard, Hackett, came in late December). But that tells a lot about the style: EA7 have a lot of dribblers, great (or fine) scorers in the backcourt, few playmakers, a lot of guys “making plays”, which is very different. Taking care of the ball also lead you to create more open looks. That’s why Maccabi is great (3rd) in True Shooting Percentage (49.8%), Milan is pretty good also with 48.3% (6th).

But if you ask to coaches around Europe, most of them will tell you that Milan has an unbelievable power on 1vs1 plays more than great shooters. For instance, there’s another number that could confirm that: EA7 is the second best team in the Top 16 in received fouls (21.8), Maccabi is 12th with (19.7).

One common point between those teams is on defensive rebounds: they are 11° and 12° (Milan 22.8, Maccabi 22.5), and both have to improve in boxing out and protect the paint. Maccabi is the 2° worst team in offensive rebounds allowed (11.4), Milan 8° with 10.3. The Italian are doing a better job in finding somewhere else those lost possessions.

The Israeli side has to do it if they want to win where only Real Madrid did in the whole season. But that in the first part of the season, before the decisive move of signing Hackett. Since then, they won all their home games (+12.8 margin in the Top 16, including the +30 vs Olympiacos and +28 against Barcelona).

Pietro

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Talking About Practice

Nella passata stagione ho chiesto, invano, di poter vedere qualche allenamento dell’Olimpia Milano. Non perché mi interessasse fare la spia, né perché non avessi altro da fare o (magari) anche voglia di fare altro.

La risposta è sempre stata no, per team policy e soprattutto scelta (legittima, ma che non ho condiviso) dell’allenatore Sergio Scariolo. A Milano qualche mese fa è arrivato Luca Banchi, che ha certamente un approccio meno sofisticato a livello di gestione del rapporto umano, e ha riaperto le porte durante le sacre sedute di lavoro della sua squadra.

Vado anche io all’allenamento ogni volta che posso, e questo perché è semplicemente bello per uno che fa il “giornalista di basket”, e che di base è un appassionato di basket. Perché mi ha riavvicinato al gioco, lo stesso che ho amato fin da piccolo andando (anche) agli allenamenti della squadra di Porto Empedocle (B2, allora), poi a Parigi, dove ho avuto la possibilità di vedere quotidianamente in palestra giocatori di livello assoluto (JR Reid, Richard Dacoury, Stéphane Risacher, Laurent Sciarra, Zarko Paspalj, Jure Zdovc, Eric Struelens e altri ancora) ed eccellenti allenatori, il migliore tra i quali rispondeva al nome di Bozidar Maljkovic.

Si imparano cose, per esempio a “leggere” le situazioni che poi si riproporranno durante la partita. Se anche non riesci ad acchiappare proprio tutto, almeno ti fai un’idea di quelli che sono gli orientamenti, l’idea di base, o (per chiamarla col nome più “giornalistico”) della filosofia di gioco.

Poi però c’è soprattutto il rumore della palla, osservare facce, reazioni, gesti, sorrisi, scazzi, momenti di stress particolare e di relax, la gestione di questi momenti con i carichi di lavoro in allenamento, la complicità che si instaura tra determinati elementi, quei piccoli cenni che diventano rituali con allenatori, ragazzi dello staff e giocatori che poi si traducono in familiarità, che non significa confidenza.

È un modo, insomma, di recuperare un certo rapporto umano che mi è mancato, e che probabilmente manca all’interno della nostra pallacanestro. Una piacevole riscoperta, che di sicuro restituisce un po’ di senso al lavoro che si fa nel seguire una squadra per una stagione intera. Ci si sente meno estranei, meno soloni, anche meno scemi a provare a immaginarsi delle cose per poter fare delle analisi evidentemente superficiali.

Tutto questo non rappresenta una novità per quei colleghi o semplici curiosi che sono abituati a frequentare gli allenamenti delle “loro” rispettive squadre. Lo è a Milano, e per questo ringrazio Luca Banchi che mi ha permesso di riscoprire quel lato meno distaccato e cinico che in molti altri momenti delle mie giornate è l’assoluto protagonista. Quelle due ore in palestra e mezza, per me, sono anche un modo di concentrarmi su ciò che amo davvero e lasciare fuori tutte quelle cose che nel corso del tempo si sono intromesse tra me e la passione genuina che mi ha condotto fino a qui.

E dunque, grazie.

Pietro

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